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X Games Aspen: Predicting the 2021 winners of all 14 ski, snowboard events

X Games is back, but it’s far from familiar.

The 2021 iteration — the 20th straight year ESPN’s winter spectacle has been held at Buttermilk Ski Area — will be nothing but the bare bones because of the coronavirus pandemic. There will be no spectators, no motorsports and no concerts during the condensed three-day event that starts Friday and runs through Sunday.

However, the heart of the skiing and snowboarding competitions are back, with most of the sports’ biggest stars expected to compete this weekend in a truly made-for-TV showcase of talent.

As I did last year, I’ll break down the 14 major events and give my predictions, presented chronologically, on who I think will win.

I went 5 for 12 in 2020, so believe what you will. Like batters in baseball, if I’m hitting anywhere near 50% I’m doing pretty darn good.

WOMEN’S SNOWBOARD SLOPESTYLE

Friday, noon

Projected winner: Jamie Anderson

Jamie Anderson is competing, so I’m picking Jamie Anderson to win. Again. Because that’s all she does. The 30-year-old Tahoe superstar is among the sport’s all-time greats and owns 17 total X Games medals, including six golds. Her X Games Aspen slopestyle wins came in 2007, 2008, 2012, 2013, 2018 and 2020. And she’s obviously still got it, having won the Laax Open this past week, the only major competition of the season so far. New Zealand’s Zoi Sadowski-Synnott (second in Laax) won the 2019 contest at X Games despite having entered only as an alternate after Anderson pulled out due to a crash during the big air competition. She’s also high on my podium list, along with the great Anna Gasser.

WOMEN’S SKI BIG AIR

Friday, 2 p.m.

Projected winner: Giulia Tanno

Switzerland’s Mathilde Gremaud arguably is the best in the discipline, having medaled in every X Games big air comp she’s been in with gold medals in 2017 (Norway) and 2019 (Aspen). But I’m banking on her fellow countrywoman Giulia Tanno to snag gold in 2021. Tanno has twice won X Games silver (both in Norway) but did miss last year’s event by withdrawing after suffering a concussion in practice. Defending big air champion Tess Ledeux isn’t competing this year, so there will be a new champ. Gremaud was second and Sarah Hoefflin — yet another Swiss skier who won big air gold in 2018 — was third in 2020, so a Swiss podium sweep isn’t out of the question. Do watch out for teen phenom Kelly Sildaru, however.

SNOWBOARD KNUCKLE HUCK

Friday, 6 p.m.

Projected winner: Rene Rinnekangas

Back for a third year, the quirky and fun competition has quickly become a fan favorite and likely is going to stick around. Fridtjof “Fridge” Tischendorf won the inaugural event in 2019 and is back, although 2020 winner Zeb Powell is not. Picking a 2021 winner isn’t easy, although it’s also difficult to go against Marcus Kleveland, who is largely credited with being the inspiration behind knuckle huck’s addition to X Games. That said, for no good reason at all, I’m picking Finland’s Rene Rinnekangas. The 21-year-old won Aspen slopestyle silver in 2019 and the knuckle huck winner tends to be a surprise, so Rinnekangas fits that mold. Watch out for the lone American in Dusty Henricksen, a 17-year-old X Games rookie who is rising the ranks quickly.

WOMEN’S SKI SUPERPIPE

Friday, 7 p.m.

Projected winner: Cassie Sharpe

Reigning champ Kelly Sildaru is back and I honestly think she’s become the best women’s halfpipe skier on the planet, or is at least knocking on that door. But I wonder how fresh her legs will be after also competing in big air earlier in the day. Only 18, the Estonian already has nine X Games medals — including five gold — and has competed in all three of the main ski events in the past few years. All I’m saying is don’t count her out. But my guess is Canada’s Cassie Sharpe returns to the top for now. She’s twice won X Games gold (2016 in Oslo, 2019 in Aspen) with bronzes in 2018 and 2020. Oh, and Sharpe also is the reigning Olympic gold medalist.

MEN’S SKI SUPERPIPE

Friday, 8:30 p.m.

Projected winner: Alex Ferreira

No, I’m not picking against the hometown hero. Too many people know where I live. But, to be honest, winning a third straight X Games Aspen gold medal will be a tall task for the 2018 Olympic silver medalist who, like most of his comrades, hasn’t had a chance to compete yet this season. But, to be honest, Ferreira is the best in the world when he’s on top of his game, and competing at X Games in his hometown halfpipe usually brings out his best. So a three-peat is certainly possible. His competition are all familiar foes, including two-time Olympic gold medalist David Wise of Nevada and two-time world champion Aaron Blunck from over the hill in Crested Butte.

WOMEN’S SKI SLOPESTYLE

Saturday, 11 a.m.

Projected winner: Kelly Sildaru

Three events in less than 24 hours for Sildaru? Kind of a normal X Games for her, honestly. She’s the best female slopestyle skier in the world and quite frankly it’s not close. She’s won X Games gold in slopestyle every year since winning her first in 2016, outside of the 2018 season in which she missed due to injury (that same injury also kept her out of the 2018 Olympics). American Maggie Voisin won in 2018 and also won 2020 slopestyle gold in Norway and is likely to be Sildaru’s main competition. But I’m using the word “competition” loosely, and that’s not a slight toward Voisin, who is great. Sildaru is just next-level amazing.

MEN’S SNOWBOARD SLOPESTYLE

Saturday, 12:30 p.m.

Projected winner: Max Parrot

Yeah, I know, I’m going to regret not picking Mark McMorris. The Canadian legend has won 20 medals at Winter X, winning both No. 19 and 20 at X Games Norway in 2020 to surpass the great Shaun White (more on him later) for most all time. But McMorris only finished seventh in Aspen last year (a stupid reason to pick against him, maybe). Max Parrot, a fellow Canadian who also is among the all-time greats, has 13 X Games medals and won slopestyle gold in Norway last year (this after beating cancer the previous year). Parrot has only won slopestyle gold in Aspen once, way back in 2014, but he’s due for a return to the top. Summit County’s Red Gerard, the reigning Olympic gold medalist, is the American to watch, although he only has one X Games medal to his name, a slopestyle bronze in 2020. Canada’s Darcy Sharpe is the reigning champ.

WOMEN’S SNOWBOARD BIG AIR

Saturday, 1:45 p.m.

Projected winner: Anna Gasser

The 2020 contest was a dominant Japanese podium sweep, with Miyabi Onitsuka winning gold, Kokomo Murase silver and Reira Iwabuchi bronze. All three are back and all should be among the favorites. A key note to make here is that the contest will be held on the final jump of the slopestyle course, and not the traditional big air jump. How that ultimately impacts the contest is anyone’s guess. Jamie Anderson is set to compete, but it’s worth pointing out the shocking fact that she has NEVER (I felt the capitalization was necessary) finished higher than third in an X Games big air contest. Maybe it’s her time, but I’ll go with reigning Olympic champion Anna Gasser, who probably has the most tools to work with as far as tricks. Gasser is a four-time X Games gold medalist (three in big air), but only one of those came in Aspen when she won the 2018 big air contest. Zoi Sadowski-Synnott, who also is competing in this year’s big air contest, won the only World Cup contest of the season so far.

MEN’S SKI BIG AIR

Saturday, 6 p.m.

Projected winner: Andri Ragettli

Do you bet against Henrik Harlaut here? Not if you’re smart. He’s a big air legend with six X Games gold medals to his name (plus a seventh with his 2018 Aspen slopestyle win). His last big air gold came only a year ago here in Aspen. But, if I’m to guess, the big air jump moving to the slopestyle course will make things a bit unpredictable, and a surprise winner will come at some point. I’m not sure Andri Ragettli would be a surprise, but I’ll go with it. The Swiss skier has four X Games medals, including slopestyle gold in Norway last winter. He won big air bronze in Aspen last year and I say he moves up to the podium a couple spots this year. Yes, that’s another Swiss skier on a big air podium, joining his female counterparts.

WOMEN’S SNOWBOARD SUPERPIPE

Saturday, 8 p.m.

Projected winner: Chloe Kim

Chloe Kim is back and along with Kelly Sildaru in ski slopestyle is probably the easiest winner to predict at X Games this year. The Californian sat out the entire 2019-20 season to focus on being a Princeton University student, but is back for the next Olympic push. With all due respect to the other halfpipe greats in women’s snowboarding — Kelly Clark, Gretchen Bleiler, etc. — Kim is the greatest there has ever been. She’s won Aspen gold four times (2015, 2016, 2018, 2019), with a bronze in 2017, a contest won by Elena Hight. Kim also is the reigning Olympic champion. Should we worry about rust with Kim after a long layoff? Well, she easily won the Laax Open this past weekend, her first competition in roughly two years, so I’d say not at all. Last year’s surprise winner, Spain’s Queralt Castellet, is back, as is California’s Maddie Mastro, but it’s Kim’s to lose. Or more likely hers to win big.

MEN’S SKI SLOPESTYLE

Sunday, 11 a.m.

Projected winner: Fabian Boesch

I’m really, really tempted to pick Andri Ragletti again here, but I’ll stick with my Swiss fascination and go with another. Fabian Boesch (yes, he’s also from Switzerland) had most of his early success in big air, winning Aspen gold in 2016 as an X Games rookie. But he’s come on strong in slopestyle in recent years, coming away with a pair of 2020 bronze medals in both Aspen and Norway. He finished a disappointing ninth in the lone World Cup event this season, a contest won by Ragettli, but that was way back in November. Last year’s champion Colby Stevenson is back and can’t be ignored. As an X Games rookie in 2020, the American won both slopestyle and ski knuckle huck. Was that beginner’s luck? Probably not, but a repeat seems unlikely.

MEN’S SNOWBOARD SUPERPIPE

Sunday, 6:30 p.m.

Projected winner: Scotty James

Let’s be frank: the entire talk of X Games Aspen 2021 will be about the return of Shaun White. Yes, it’s expected he’s going to compete at X Games for the first time since 2017, and for the first time in any halfpipe since winning his third Olympic gold medal in 2018. Do you really need his resume? An absurd 23 X Games medals when including skateboarding, 15 of those being golden in nature. He’s the greatest halfpipe snowboarder ever and there is nothing to debate. But he’s also 34 and hasn’t made an X Games podium since winning in 2013. What should we expect when (and if) he drops in this weekend? I’ve no idea, but I’d guess he’s not here going for second place. In his way will be Australian Scotty James, who has reigned terror over the sport since the last Olympics and has won the past two contests in Aspen. I’m calling the three-peat. His main competition, however, isn’t White, but Japan’s Yuto Totsuka, who just edged James in the Laax World Cup last weekend (White did not compete). Of note, two-time reigning Olympic silver medalist Ayumu Hirano of Japan again is absent (he won X Games gold in 2018) despite having originally been on the list of invited athletes.

MEN’S SNOWBOARD BIG AIR

Sunday, 7:45 p.m.

Projected winner: Chris Corning

I might be diving off the deep end on this one. But, my original choice to win (Mark McMorris) is now out of the competition after testing positive for COVID-19. His replacement? Yes, former Aspen Valley Ski & Snowboard Club athlete Chris Corning. Originally just an alternate this year, Corning has been thrust into the starting lineup and has a lot to prove. He’s an absolute superstar in big air competition, but just hasn’t found any sort of luck here in Aspen since his 2018 X Games debut. He does have one X Games medal, a big air bronze in Norway 2018, but only finished ninth in Aspen 2020 (and 18th in slopestyle). His American counterpart, Dusty Henricksen, is an X Games rookie this year and might be trying to steal his thunder. So, with a chip on his shoulder, Corning breaks through. Or, more probably, Max Parrot wins a ninth X Games gold medal (or 10th if you count his predicted win in slopestyle). But I’m rolling with Corning.

SKI KNUCKLE HUCK

Sunday, 8:30 p.m.

Projected winner: Quinn Wolferman

This will be ski knuckle huck’s second year at X Games. As previously mentioned, Colby Stevenson won the inaugural event in 2020. Local skiing icon Torin Yater-Wallace literally hopped of a plane from Japan and into the comp to finish sixth, although he’s not part of the planned X Games festivities this year. This is an absurdly impossible event to predict, so I’ll go with Quinn Wolferman to give the U.S. back-to-back ski knuckle huck crowns. The Montanan is hardly a household name, which makes him perfect for winning knuckle huck. He finished third in the event last year (Henrik Harlaut was second) but doesn’t have any other truly notable career results. He is plenty familiar with Aspen, however, having competed in the Aspen Freeskiing Open at Buttermilk a handful of times.

acolbert@aspentimes.com

With no fans on-site, X Games Aspen creates a virtual X Fest

IF YOU GO …

What: Virtual X Fest

Where: XGames.com/XFest

When: Through Sunday, Jan. 31

How much: Free

When X Games event producers at ESPN decided to move forward with the 2021 event at Buttermilk Ski Area in Aspen without fans on-site, they didn’t want to completely abandon the X Fest that normally runs concurrently at the mountain’s base area.

Amid the ongoing novel coronavirus pandemic, they decided to take it virtual.

“We had an opportunity to do something different and it really took a leap of faith,” Matt Gizzi, senior director of sports brand solutions at ESPN parent company Disney, said this week.

And so, at midnight on Thursday on the eve of this most unusual X Games, the doors opened on the virtual X Fest.

It’s an immersive, interactive environment aimed at giving a taste of the on-site experience that isn’t available this year. Its developers believe it will be the primary way some experience X Games this year, and may also be a second-screen experience complementing the main ESPN broadcast.

“We were looking for some sort of creative solution to not just give up as live events are going away for the fans,” said Gizzi. “Over the past year, we started to see the trends and we wanted to find a way that could fit for us and our events. We landed on trying to come up with a virtual way for a fan to experience the X Fest.”

For the past 20 years of X Games in Aspen, X Fest has transformed the base of Buttermilk into a snowbound carnival of capitalism and shenanigans. This is where increasingly elaborate tents have popped up from sponsors and vendors, giving away swag and experiences to the hordes of X Games fans. It’s here where you might’ve done a powdersurfing board demo, watched a ski movie in Studio X, where young fans lined up athlete autographs. It’s here you chugged the free energy drinks and munched complementary snacks, where college kids covertly over-consumed their contraband. There have always been giveaways and competitions here – everything from obstacle courses to dance-offs, from the U.S. Navy’s pull-up contest to Great Clips’ free haircuts and styling in years past.

The on-snow action might be the main draw at X Games, and the concerts may have increasingly been what lured visitors in recent years, but no matter the reason you’re there, X Fest is integral to the in-person X Games experience.

The virtual version aims to approximate that.

Free to play, it runs straight from a browser – no app or download required – and allows you to roam freely about the virtual fest. When you enter, you customize your avatar – choosing whether to be a skier to snowboarder, picking the color scheme of your outfit, whether it fits snugly or Henrik Harlaut-style baggy or somewhere in between, whether you wear a helmet or beanie, and so on.

The environment is a sort of fantasy version of the base of Buttermilk and the terrain of X Fest at the X Games venue. Developers used photos and video from X Fest’s past to build this world.

You’ll see familiar features like the firepit at the entrance to the Inn at Aspen, you’ll spot see the Panda Peak and Summit Express lifts in the distance, the Big Air jump and the Superpipe (of course) looming above, with a lineup of booths not unlike the ones that normally fill the base area during Buttermilk’s biggest weekend.

There’s a big screen here where you can watch live streams of the competitions as well as playlist of X Games highlights and content – during a reporter’s tour before the site went live, it featured skier Alex Ferreira narrating one of his gold medal Superpipe runs.

Like the in-person X Fest, there is some product-pushing from sponsors, some sweepstakes and some more experience-based stops along the way.

As your avatar skis around X Fest, others pass along ideas of where to go and what to do. Over in the Jeep section, you can go inside the company’s new hybrid vehicle. At the Wendy’s booth, there’s a retro arcade game set-up, where you can compete in the Knuckle Huck comp, sending yourself off the knuckle at the bottom of Buttermilk and attempting to land a trick (a leaderboard will keep track of high scores throughout X Games weekend).

Inside Monster’s igloo-based “chill media zone,” you’ll find curated snowsports clips. At a National Geographic photo booth, you can explore a recent greatest hits collection of images. On the Geico music stage, where The Chainsmokers and Kygo and Lil Wayne have reigned in person, you’ll find music trunks and roadies to help you explore some new music from X-friendly artists and labels (during the tour, it featured tracks from No Trace and White Rose Moxie).

As is the goal with all things at the eternally youthful X Games, the producers simply wanted to make it cool.

“We wanted to make it feel like it was an actual part of X Games, not just an add-on because, ‘Oh, you had to do it for sponsors,’” said Gizzi.

It was built for ESPN by a team of developers and artists at the Wisconsin-based experiential marketing agency GMR, who began work on the virtual X Fest about two months ago when ESPN decided to move forward with its no-fan, bubble-style X Games for 2021.

Through your avatar, you can also find X Games merchandise areas and a spot to take a photo of yourself and tag it with X Games-related stickers, ready-made for sharing on social media – a way to replace the obligatory Superpipe selfie. GMR creative director Cam Schultheis called the photo opp “an artifact of the COVID year for people to share.”

There’s also a bulletin board where you can click and find info on the latest X Games news (as well as posters from the past two decades of X). And there are also many Easter eggs and hidden features. You might find a yeti in the woods, for instance, or a tie-in to the “Rocket League” video game.

X Games producers believe the virtual experience will draw interest and engagement from fans throughout the weekend as people lern about it through social media and the live broadcast. But they’re not counting on attendance anywhere near the 100,000-plus that regularly come through X Fest in-person over X Games weekend.

“If we have even 10% of what our attendance was interacting with this, I think that’s a win,” Gizzi said. “I don’t think anyone has cracked the code on replacing live events for fans and engagement.”

atravers@aspetimes.com

Skico, ESPN working on what X Games Aspen 2021 could look like this winter

Aspen Skiing Co. is moving ahead on tentative plans to host X Games in 2021 at Buttermilk Ski Area and is requesting $115,000 for transportation services from local governments in the event that patrons will be allowed in person.

In a memo last month to the Elected Officials Transportation Committee, which comprises the city of Aspen, Pitkin County and Snowmass Village, Skico Senior Vice President John Rigney asked for the funding, just as the company did in 2020.

“We are currently 20-plus weeks out from the scheduled start of X Games, and much could change between now and then, especially with respect to spectator access and corresponding transportation needs?” he wrote in the memo. “Because of the uncertainty regarding spectator volume this year, the money can come in the form of a reimbursement instead of an upfront commitment. This reimbursement may be drastically reduced in scope in this particular year if spectator access ends up being restricted.”

The EOTC is scheduled to meet Oct. 29 when it will consider Skico’s request. Aspen City Council and the Pitkin Board of County Commissioners spent time during their work sessions on Tuesday preparing for next week’s EOTC meeting.

ESPN spokesman Danny Chi wrote in an email Tuesday that he was limited in commenting, adding that he hopes for more information will become public later this year.

“We continue to work with Aspen Skiing Company and local officials as we evaluate X Games Aspen 2021,” he wrote via email.

Skico officials were unavailable for comment as staffers throughout the company have the week off.

Rigney in his memo explained that Skico, along with the county, the local board of health and ESPN, the presenter of the X Games, are looking into several scaled-back options that “provide a safe event that generates the same broad-based promotion of our resort while remaining flexible and fluid in our new reality. … This very well could mean limiting spectator access and modifying the on-site programming this year.”

In February 2020, which was the 19th year of Skico hosting the Winter X Games, there were an estimated 111,500 attendees over the multi-day event.

This year’s X Games also garnered 16 hours of live TV, reaching tens of millions of people in original programming, and more than 500 million homes across 197 countries had access to televised and packaged for rebroadcast content, according to Rigney.

On social media platforms, there were over 18 million views across Facebook, Instagram and YouTube, which is an 18% increase over 2019, his memo states.

Because of the coronavirus pandemic, the made-for-television event will likely draw even bigger numbers next year.

Skico is under contract with ESPN to host X Games annually through 2024.

csackariason@aspentimes.com

Basalt’s Maytham, with help from Ferreira, chasing own X Games skiing dream

Before Alex Ferreira threw down a 1440 in the superpipe to win his second straight X Games Aspen gold medal last month, he spent hours training on the Aspen Valley Ski and Snowboard Club’s trampoline. And Chace Maytham had a front-row seat to the whole thing.

“I watched him do that run for five months straight before X Games, just preparing,” Maytham said Wednesday. “I saw how focused and dedicated he was to learning that trick and putting together one of the best pipe runs ever done. It really rubbed off on me how hard you have to work to learn those huge tricks.”

Maytham is trying to follow in Ferreira’s footsteps. A 2019 graduate of Basalt High School where he starred as a football player, the 18-year-old Maytham decided to put his full attention toward halfpipe skiing this year in order to chase down his lifelong dream of competing at X Games.

He’s trained most of his life with AVSC, but never had the time to fully commit to skiing until after he graduated from Basalt.

“Being a multi-sport athlete, it’s always been tough for him to really give skiing the focus that he wants to,” said Greg Ruppel, AVSC’s head park and pipe coach. “That worked out really nice for him this fall getting to hang around Alex and do a lot of trampolining, some workouts with him, and just kind of pick up Alex’s mindset and his approach to competition, because I think that’s probably one of the most valuable things Alex has to really teach a newer athlete like Chace.”

Ferreira, the 25-year-old Aspen native and former AVSC athlete who won Olympic silver in 2018, lives near Aspen Highlands and often trains down the street at the AVSC clubhouse. It was there he befriended Maytham and decided to take him under his wing, which was a big boost for the former Longhorn. The two spent hours training alongside each other in the fall and both happen to be taking classes at Colorado Mountain College.

“He’s been fantastic. He always asks me how a contest went or I’d send him a video of my run and he’d critique it in a different way a coach can do, because it’s coming from another athlete,” Maytham said of Ferreira. “I’m young and I still have a lot to go, but I still feel like I have a lot to catch up on and that’s why I wanted to take this year and really dedicate myself.”

Maytham will compete Saturday in the Aspen Snowmass Freeskiing Open, a Nor-Am Cup event that could pave the way for future starts in World Cups, if not even bigger events such as X Games. The contest is held on the X Games venue at Buttermilk Ski Area.

This will be Maytham’s fourth time competing in the freeski open, his best finish coming last year when he was 12th in the halfpipe. He has a handful of other Nor-Am Cup starts, including earlier this winter at Copper Mountain, but is still chasing that breakthrough performance.

He said having so much more time to train this winter has made this year’s freeski open at Buttermilk feel more promising in regards to making finals or even getting on the podium.

“I’ve never been on the podium here and this year I feel I actually have a good shot,” Maytham said. “Now that I have so much more time to ski and train and really dedicate myself, it’s become my life. I wouldn’t say I was so committed when I was younger, but realizing now this is it, I kind of left all my friends, in a way.”

Maytham isn’t quite doing 14s like Ferreira, but did say he’s close to adding a double-cork 1260 to his arsenal, a trick he plans to have competition-ready by the end of the season. Between Saturday’s freeski open in Aspen and another Nor-Am competition in Canada next week, this is an important time frame for Maytham to keep his skiing dreams alive for next season.

If it all falls into place, Maytham has hopes of getting his first World Cup start next fall in New Zealand. Of course, like any local skier, the ultimate dream would be making it to X Games, a feat Maytham sees as possible over the coming years. He’s come so far in only a few months this season that he’s optimistic that trend will continue into the winters ahead.

“Right when I graduated I knew I wanted to pursue skiing and pursue it more professionally than what I’d done,” Maytham said. “Before I can even remember, my dream was I wanted to be in X Games. I had the opportunity to go to a university and do that, but I was really, ‘This is my shot, my one shot.’ I would rather put my full effort into skiing, because growing up I never really had a full ski schedule.”

The men’s ski superpipe qualifier for the Aspen Snowmass Freeskiing Open is scheduled to start at 12:30 p.m. Saturday, with finals slated to follow directly after.

Spectating is free.

acolbert@aspentimes.com

X Faces: A look at the athletes who made up X Games Aspen 2020

Staff photographer Kelsey Brunner was behind the scenes all weekend to document the X Games Aspen 2020 edition.

Along the way, The Aspen Times photographer caught the faces of those who made up one of the bigger athlete lists. From skiers to boarders, Brunner focused in on their intense looks and signs of relief when they got to the bottom.

From teens to veteran riders, we take a look at the “Faces of X Games.”

X Games Aspen 2020 leads to few incidents in town, crowd of 111k rolled through

The 2020 X Games have come and gone with few lingering effects — a handful of arrests were made, the entrance to the Rio Grande parking garage lever has been repaired after someone drove through it early Saturday morning and parking spots are easier to come by.

ESPN reports that 111,500 people attended the four-day event held at Buttermilk Ski Area from Thursday to Sunday. That is down from the 117,000 attendance from 2019.

On Saturday, message boards near Basalt on Highway 82 told motorists that the Brush Creek Park & Ride was full and to park in Aspen. But by 12:30 p.m., the garage was full, too.

That prompted Mitch Osur, the city’s parking director, to make the decision for the second year in a row to offer free parking in Aspen late Saturday afternoon.

The city also encouraged people to park in residential areas and then take the bus to the venue at Buttermilk Ski Area.

“It was the largest Saturday for parking of the year,” Osur said.

Tracy Trulove, the city of Aspen’s communications director who was on the X Games incident command team, said 574 “contacts” were made with individuals from Thursday to Sunday night.

Half of those were traffic stops, Trulove said, and the other half amounted to officers talking to people at the venue about open container, liquor and marijuana consumption.

Two arrests were made by the Pitkin County Sheriff’s Office, including one DUI and the other a drug possession.

Sheriff Joe DiSalvo characterized the masses as a “well-behaved crowd.”

The Aspen Police Department made seven arrests, ranging from DUI to disorderly conduct to noise violations, according to Aspen Assistant Police Chief Bill Linn.

There were two car-versus-pedestrian accidents in the city, and nine noise complaints.

Work was being done on Monday morning to repair the access arm to the RIo Grande Parking Garage after someone drove through it, tearing it off, over the weekend.
Carolyn Sackariason/The Aspen Times

APD is investigating an incident in which a motorist exited through the Mill Street entrance to the Rio Grande Parking Garage, tearing off the arm that allows access.

Video surveillance shows the vehicle’s license plate and APD has identified the registered owner.

csackariason@aspentimes.com

X Games Aspen music review: Illenium, Rae Sremmurd, Bazzi and Alesso

The hordes of young music fans at X Games Aspen were the first audience to hear new songs from Rae Sremmurd, an unreleased track from Illenium and the live debut of Bazzi’s hit “I.F.L.Y.” this weekend at Buttermilk. A sell-out crowd celebrated Colorado’s own Illenium on Saturday, many sporting Illenium baseball jerseys, and thousands braved sub-freezing temperatures to jump up and down in unison to Alesso’s “Years” later that night in a set punctuated by a surprise fireworks show.

Crowds were smaller than the four-show sell out of 2019, but in its sixth year of hosting shows in the 5,000-capacity temporary music arena on the Buttermilk bunny hill, X Games brought its youngest group of headliners (none over age 29) and the newest music from some of the world’s biggest pop stars.

ILLENIUM PLAYS AND REMIXES HIS BEST

Illenium, the Denver-based EDM star, brought his A-game to the homestate crowd, playing hits, crossing genres, paying homage to his beginnings and drawing and releasing the energy of the venue, making sure everyone left wanting more.

Acutely aware of how to shift energy in his largely college-aged or younger crowd, he worked it to his advantage to keep the audience entertained through a 90-minute set at the Buttermilk stage.

The tension could be felt before he even began, as crowds of teens and 20-somethings flooded into the venue 40 minutes before showtime. The relaxed drinkers settled in the back of the venue while pairs and impromptu dance parties filled out the center and a solid mass of bodies pushed against the stage, shrouded by a haze of cannabis and fogged breath.

Illenium, born Nicholas Miller, walked onstage to an erupting crowd as the quiet voiceover that leads his latest album, “Ascend,” played over the speakers.

“It’s unavoidable,” the woman’s voice began, “Just happens. When you grow up, your heart dies.”

“Who cares?” both the male response and the crowd replied in unison, voicing the dichotomy of millennial cynicism and earnestness present in any good modern EDM lyric. With that, the tension broke and the energy released.

Miller started by making his way through quick, one-chorus impressions of some of his well-known songs, including the booming voice of Foy Vance paired with heavy dubstep drops in “Blood,” and the sing-along choruses of “Crawl Outta Love” and “Where’d You Go?” Anyone unaware of the lyrics could make correct noises to the easily singable melodies.

From there, Miller worked through an eclectic medley of his catalog, ranging from well-known favorites of “Crashing,” “Sound of Walking Away,” and his remix of The Chainsmokers’ “Don’t Let Me Down,” to less-vocal songs from his earlier career including “So Wrong” and “In Your Wake.”

Through it all, Miller acted masterfully — pounding out drum fills on an electric setup surrounding his laptop and gliding across the fretboard of his guitar, both solo and as a duet with an onstage extra. As the temperature dropped and the audience flagged, Miller kept track, timing his beat changes to pick the crowd back up, even going so far as a rallying cry, “Can you all bring some energy right now?” before launching into a reverberating, “Three, two, one!” and a dubstep breakdown.

However, as with many EDM artists hoping to play to the crowd, Miller returned to the choruses and drops of his songs multiple times. In each, he tried to make it feel fresh with different riffs or an unexpected cross into a new melody, but the latter half of the 90 minutes started eliciting feelings of deja entendu.

In the end, Miller seemed like he was going to finish his set by giving the crowd what they truly wanted: a communal moment of musical recognition.

He worked through an extended mash-up of “Sad Songs” and his newest hit with vocalist Jon Bellion, “Good Things Fall Apart.” Lyrics intertwining and audience jumping, Miller brought the crowd to a swell before one final twist: Ending the night with an unreleased song titled “Feel Something.” The crowd reacted with slight surprise, but no one stopped dancing during the residual cheer.

RAE SREMMURD DEBUTS NEW SONGS

Near the end of an hour-long set Friday night, Rae Sremmurd’s Swae Lee asked the enthusiastic crowd, “Only in Aspen for X Games, can I do some exclusive shit?”

Making his way to the edge of the mosh pit, he said he’d be watching his fans closely as they heard it for the first time: “Nobody here is going to know these words — I want to see some real reactions.”

The hip-hop duo’s DJ then spun a few minutes of the new track, featuring a trap beat and Swae repeating lines like “I got it straight out my system” and “Get that hate out my system.” Swae said he expected to release the song by the end of February, with a full solo album to follow.

The slopeside venue roared for it after Swae’s build-up. And as the track played, he hyped the spectators up, dancing, pumping his arms and head-banging among them.

The other half of the duo, Slim Jxmmi, also shared an unreleased solo song, a new collaboration with DaBaby called “Mic Check.”

Thrilling as it was to hear the new tracks, Rae Sremmurd’s performance was deflating.

The duo leaned heavily on recorded tracks spun by D_JaySremm for most of the set, singing and rapping in short bursts over the recorded versions. The X Gamers were unfazed, happy to dance and sing along to a set list packed with the Atlanta-based siblings’ string of hits as they know them, following word-for-word as Rae Sremmurd opened with a party-starting run of “No Type,” “No Flex Zone,” “Perplexing Pegasus” and “Come Get Her.”

The duo put a herculean effort into onstage antics and fan interaction — both jumping into the crowd multiple times, Slim turning the microphone over to an audience member to freestyle, Swae doing the Batusi, playing air guitar and smashing pineapples, both often lavishing praise on a rowdy, young audience Swae called “one of the littest crowds in North America.”

It’s hard to be let down by a show with so much action (lasers and fog machines, strobe lights and a story-high video screen playing animations to boot) but it was a let-down. Swae and Slim are studio wizards who’ve made some of the best hip-hop songs of the past decade, no doubt, but one of the things that’s set them apart is the distinct and often surprising interplay of Swae’s disarmingly gentle harmonies and high notes juxtaposed against Slim’s rough-edged verses. Anybody hoping to see that play out live onstage at X Games left this show disappointed, though most of this crowd didn’t seem to mind the pantomime and karaoke-style set.

Several times at the beginning or end of songs — including “Swang,” “Black Beatles” and “Sunflower” — Swae did sing a verse a capella or he vamped, plugging references to Colorado, snowboarding, Aspen and X Games into the most familiar of Rae Sremmurd lyrics.

The chilly midwinter air may have hampered the duo’s vocals, of course, with the temperature in the 30s. After closing the set with “Powerglide,” Swae hinted that the cold might have slowed him down: “I got pneumonia or something f—ing with y’all!”

SEXYTIME WITH BAZZI

Anybody who thinks X Games music can only move at one over-caffeinated speed should take notice, as the R&B singer Bazzi proved otherwise in a gorgeous and sleek 45-minute set Sunday afternoon. The performance was filled with Bazzi’s sex-positive slow jams, bad-boy confessionals and torch songs — tales of break-ups and raw emotions and rawer bedroom liasons.

The 22-year-old singer also treated X Games to the first live performance of his recent streaming hit “I.F.L.Y” (185 million Spotify streams and counting). The song was a high point of the evening, with the young crowd singing along to the infectious “I f—ing love you” chorus.

Bazzi was backed by a live drummer and guitarist, with an off-stage DJ piping in the electronic production. He also picked up a guitar himself for “Alone” and other songs. But the show was carried by a man and a microphone, with Bazzi singing R&B augmented by some big bass drops — the cathartic crescendos of “Why” and “Mine” were highlights — and that booming drum set. It was an organic breath of fresh air.

As a songwriter, he can turn heartbreak, longing and devotion into perfect pop constructions like the set-opening “Paradise.” As a performer, he can sell it without crossing the line into cheese-pop territory. He gave X Games a feel-good comedown after a weekend of bombastic EDM and hip-hop sets from Alesso, Illenium and Rae Sremmurd. His was lighter on the pyrotechnics and electronic sounds, drawing a smaller but no less devoted crowd of fans to the Buttermilk venue than his noisier predecessors.

After closing with an extended singalong “Mine,” Bazzi returned for an encore. He took fan requests for his farewell song, choosing the sultry “Focus.”

Taking the X Games music stage hours after news broke of Kobe Bryant’s death in a California helicopter crash, Bazzi — a Michigan native now based in Los Angeles — honored the NBA legend, calling him “one of my heroes growing up, one of the greatest basketball players and humans of all time.”

“I want you all to remember how lucky we all are to be at the X Games in Aspen right now alive and healthy,” he told the Buttermilk Ski Area crowd, drawing a roar of applause and a “Kobe” chant.

atravers@aspentime.com swagner@aspentimes.com

Aspen’s Ferreira repeats as X Games ski pipe champion in showdown with Blunck

Aspen’s love for Alex Ferreira doesn’t go unnoticed by the 25-year-old halfpipe skier. After all, he grew up in Aspen and never hesitates to talk about how much he loves his hometown.

And that is a big reason why he was so nervous to try to defend his X Games Aspen gold medal Sunday in the men’s ski superpipe final at Buttermilk.

“He was totally more nervous because he had to defend his title and he really wanted to be there for his fans and for Aspen. He wanted to be there for Aspen,” Ferreira’s mother, Colleen Delia, said after the competition. “This town is so good to me and to all of us. I’m just so blessed to live here. It’s the most amazing town and we do have a lot of family support. It’s wonderful.”

Ferreira achieved a lifelong dream last winter when he won his first X Games Aspen gold medal in front of his friends and family, beating two-time Olympic gold medalist David Wise in the process. Sunday’s final was a duel between Ferreira and Crested Butte’s Aaron Blunck, and it came down to the final run of the 30-minute jam session.

The last to drop in and trailing Blunck, Ferreira could feel the weight on his shoulders.

“I was thinking, ‘This is a pretty big moment and there is a lot of pressure and a lot of stress. I got to compartmentalize that and do my best.’ And that’s what happened,” Ferreira said. “Absolutely a dream come true. Couldn’t have dreamt it better. I’m just so grateful and thankful everyone came down and we had such an awesome event.”

When the final standings were announced — there are no actual scores in the overall impression scoring system implemented at X Games this year — it was Ferreira back on top where he started, followed by Blunck and bronze medalist Brendan MacKay, an X Games rookie from Canada.

Blunck, 23, had only one previous X Games medal, a gold he won in 2017. He did enter as the two-time reigning world champion.

“He skied really well tonight and it was a good battle. I was just happy to have the opportunity to compete here at X Games,” Blunck said of Ferreira. “It feels amazing. I’m so stoked. Everyone out here killed it tonight and this new format, it’s so fun. It gives us an opportunity to be diverse, change things up and just go out and have some fun and just ski.”

MacKay, 22, was a surprise on the podium. Of the two Canadians in the eight-man final, X Games veteran Noah Bowman would have been the one most would expect to come away with a medal. After all, Bowman has twice been on the X Games podium, winning silver in 2012 and bronze in 2017. He was eighth Sunday.

Even MacKay had a hard time believing he was bringing an X Games bronze home with him.

“It’s kind of the dream. No other way to put it,” MacKay said. “I knew they were better than me. So I had my work cut out for me to keep up with them because they are so crazy good at skiing. Stoked I was able to land my runs.”

The athletes each got four runs in the jam session, and it was Ferreira leading most of the way. That is, until Blunck delivered on his final run, highlighted by a right side double-cork 1440 that jumped him ahead of Ferreira in the standings.

As the defending champion, Ferreira had the honors of being the last contestant to drop in. He had done little wrong over his previous three runs, but still trailed Blunck and needed one more good trip through the superpipe.

“He was solid all week. He worked out. He steamed. He ate super healthy and he meditated. He was just really chill,” Delia said. “I don’t know, he just got in the zone and did it. I was so proud. I knew he was going to do it. I just knew. But you always have that fear. I’ve been scared all week.”

Ferreira’s final run was nearly flawless and different from last year’s winning run, which included a pair of 1260s. Needing to keep up with Blunck, Ferreira pulled out his own version of the double-cork 1440, a trick he said he only recently learned. He paired that with a switch double-cork 1080 for his final two hits and apparently that’s exactly what he needed for gold.

“It hasn’t really been done that much and to be able to do it on the fourth and final run is a big deal,” said Ferreira, who also gushed about the fan support at the bottom of the superpipe. “It’s indescribable, because everybody wants me to win and wants me to do well and I can feel the energy, I can feel the aura and I can feel my mom and my friends and they just want me to do well and it rubs off, it really does. I’m just so grateful they came out.”

New Zealand’s Nico Porteous, last year’s bronze medalist as well as the reigning Olympic bronze medalist, was fourth Sunday. Winter Park’s Birk Irving, who edged out Blunck to win Friday’s elimination, was fifth, while Boulder’s Lyman Currier, a 2014 Olympian, was sixth. Wise, a four-time X Games Aspen gold medalist, was seventh, followed by Bowman.

Ferreira said the X Games repeat gold gives him fuel for the rest of the season. He hadn’t competed much this winter before Sunday, taking seventh at the Copper Grand Prix on Dec. 13 — won by Blunck — and 12th in a World Cup in China a week later, won by Bowman.

With the Mammoth Grand Prix scheduled for this week and Dew Tour, which is at Copper Mountain Resort this year, scheduled for early February, Ferreira has a renewed desire to compete.

“I gave it my whole heart and soul and I’m just grateful,” Ferreira said. “I didn’t do well in the first two events and quite frankly I didn’t really want to be at the last two events. It wasn’t that much fun. And this one I want to be at. And I’ve known from the past when I want to be at an event and I actually care about it, I typically tend to do pretty well.”

acolbert@aspentimes.com

Sildaru earns X Games slopestyle gold, holds most by any athlete 17 and younger

Kelly Sildaru should just change her last name to Slopestyle.

The 17-year-old out of Estonia has won every X Games women’s ski slopestyle competition since 2016, except for 2018, when she didn’t attend the games. Her dominance in the discipline rooted deeper into the hillside at Buttermilk as she won her fourth gold in the event Sunday afternoon and second of the weekend.

Commentators claim Sildaru’s rail work was the difference, but even the skier said she isn’t sure what makes her so successful in slopestyle.

“I don’t know. I haven’t figured it out yet,” Sildaru said. “I’m just trying to enjoy it and have fun skiing.”

On Friday, Sildaru took gold in the superpipe. With the wins, she now has nine X Games medals, tying Shaun White for most earned by a teenage athlete. With five golds, she is the sole holder of the most gold medals by any athlete 17 or younger.

She’s also just the third athlete this weekend to walk away with a pair of gold medals, alongside unified snowboarder and snow biker Mike Schulz and skier Colby Stevenson who won both the ski knuckle huck and slopestyle competitions.

Her second run was her strongest as she pulled out a rightside 900 with a mute grab, followed by a leftside 900 with a tail grab. She ended the run with a rightside 720 off the fin, the most rotation any skier got off the feature at the time.

Swiss skier Sarah Hoefflin and Sildaru exchanged spots in the leader’s seat until after the third trip down the course, when Sildaru took over for good.

Hoefflin sat in second place and tried to put down her best stuff for her last run, but couldn’t stick the landing on her second jump. Her less-than-perfect run kept her in second.

With just the defending champion left to drop in, Sildaru’s final run was more of a victory lap. She didn’t play it safe though, sticking a switch 1260 on the last jump.

“I just tried to enjoy the course and make the most of it,” she said.

Hoefflin’s silver brings her 2020 medal count to three, the most by any athlete as of Sunday afternoon. She earned bronze in unified skiing as well as ski big air.

The battle for third in slopestyle was dramatic, as Montana native Maggie Voisin and Isabel Atkin out of Park City went back and forth in the standings after each run. Sitting in a podium spot with one run remaining, Voisin “upped her rail game” with a 450 switch in her last pass through the course.

“Today was just the perfect day,” the 21-year-old said. “For me, it’s realizing sometimes in practice I’m not going to put it all together, taking a deep breath and knowing that when the pressure is on, I have it.”

Street star Jesse Paul holds off Sharpe, Thorgren to win snowboard rail jam

Normally, the street specialists would have the advantage over the true slopestyle riders in a rail jam. However, the inaugural snowboard rail jam at X Games Aspen on Sunday wasn’t your typical rail jam, as it sent riders down the upper part of the actual slopestyle course at Buttermilk Ski Area.

“These rails are intimidating,” said X Games host and former competitor Jack Mitrani during Sunday’s telecast. “I used to come here and compete in pipe, and this was back in the day when slopestyle wasn’t as high a level as it’s at right now, but I’d come over here and I’d have some fun on these rails. But they were so intimidating. They are humungous.”

So, considering this, it may be surprising that Jesse Paul, a 27-year-old urban rider from Minnesota, took down X Games stars Darcy Sharpe and Sven Thorgren to win Sunday’s rail jam. Paul won bronze in the all-street video competition Real Snow put on by X Games in 2017.

“This is a dream come true,” Paul said after receiving his gold medal.

Sharpe won slopestyle gold only the night before, while Thorgren is now a six-time X Games medalist, including slopestyle gold in 2017. But Paul, despite his relative inexperience on the larger slopestyle rails at Buttermilk, took down the traditional stars Sunday.

The 20-minute jam session, which like most contests this weekend was using an overall impression scoring format as opposed to the tradition best run scoring system, was highlighted by the appearance of Craig McMorris, a pro snowboarder and X Games TV personality who is the brother of slopestyle and big air star Mark McMorris.

Craig McMorris was one of the eight competitors in the rail jam, finishing seventh. His antics and in-contest interviews gave the event some personality.

On his first run, he opened by hopping out of a parked Jeep and hit a large rainbow rail with only one foot strapped onto his snowboard. He hit it flawlessly, but stopped before the next set of rails, unstrapped and just slid down the rest of the course.

“It’s just pure improvisation at this point,” McMorris said. “I’m having fun. Everybody is having fun. I though I’d do something different. I’m not going to hang with these slopestyle guys on the 270s, so you got to find your own way.”

Other competitors included fourth-place finisher Rene Rinnekangas, a rising slopestyle star from Finland, street stars in Brandon Davis and Frank Bourgeois, and Japan’s Ryo Aizawa, who finished seventh in Saturday’s big air contest but made some noise with the quad-cork 1800 he landed in qualifying.

acolbert@aspentimes.com